A fairly ho-hum generic look was a bit of a surprise from the Sennheiser Momentum 4. Fortunately, the sound delights and the battery life is a winner. Are they up there as the best noise cancelling cans?
Whether you’re jumping on a train, boarding a plane, walking around town, or generally just looking for a way to isolate yourself from the world, it is fairly clear that there is one clear way to do all these things: noise cancelling headphones.
Picking one pair is just so darn difficult, because there are so many choices, and so many great choices. From new brands to sound brands that have been around for what seems like a lifetime, deciding on a pair of active noise cancellation headphones isn’t always easy, and with more coming out all the time, this job isn’t made any easier.
The most recent to land at the Pickr Reviews Desk may not win over folks who want an aesthetic delight for the eyes, because the design certainly doesn’t tantalise or impress. Fortunately, the sound has something to win you over, as does the battery life, which may well be one of the features that wins you over, particularly if you do a lot of travelling and not a lot of remembering to recharge.
Are Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 headphones a pair worth packing on your next trip, local or otherwise?
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Design and features
Upon first glance, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 won’t exactly win you kudos for the look, because these are as plain as plain gets. While Apple’s AirPods Max offer a sleek metal and fabric style and Sony tapers back its look in the XM5 to be minimalistic but still premium, Sennheiser’s take in the Momentum 4 feels deliberately boring: these are basic black headphones with no obvious design flourish to suggest you’re buying something premium.
Inside, there’s a 42mm driver and some noise cancelling hardware, with two microphones on each side capable of using beamforming if you plan to speak, while the noise cancelling feature relies on adaptive noise cancellation, using some software smarts and GPS connections in the app if you choose to control what’s going on. Or you can just leave the noise cancellation all the way up and try to block everything out.
And you should be able to do this for quite a while, with support for up to 60 hours of battery life. If you don’t have much life, a five minute charge will provide 4 hours of battery life, while a roughly two hour charge should get the battery up to full, charging over the USB Type C port in the headphones.
Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 also comes with a hard-backed fabric case, and while the headphones don’t fold up to make them a bit smaller, the Sennheiser case does include practically everything you’d need for a trip, including 3.5mm headset jack cable, USB Type C cable, and even an airplane adaptor for the few aircraft that still need them. You’ll still need a media device like your phone, tablet, or computer (or you can use an in-flight media system), but these headphones can operate both wired and wireless, using Bluetooth 5.2 for that.
Aside for that USB Type C port, you won’t find a lot on the headphones. The look is fairly plain, with an around-the-ear circumaural design that feels comfortable to wear, but keeps a decent seal around the ears, albeit one that doesn’t look tremendously unique.
One could argue being boring has a benefit of no one knowing you’re wearing premium headphones, thereby limiting the chances of someone taking them from you as you walk through the streets, a problem Beats used to deal many years ago.
With no special symbols or styles, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 look so boring, no one’s going to want to steal them from you, so that’s a win, kinda sorta.
The controls on the Momentum 4 are also… interesting.
On the one hand, credit for Sennheiser needs to be given for moving in the right direction: away from buttons. You’ll find one proper button on the headset, and that’s primarily for switching the headphones on and off, and for checking the battery life in a pinch. The battery goes for ages, so you shouldn’t need to do too much of that.
Then there’s the touch panel on the right side, and outside of one set of controls, it is fairly simple to get your head (and hands) across.
Swipe up for volume up and down for volume down, while swipes forward and backward control the music — you guessed it — forwards and backwards. You can also touch the large touchpad that is the right can once and it’ll pause the music, while another touch will play again. Easy, right?
Things get a little too creative with the noise cancellation modes, because Sennheiser decided to borrow gestures used for your phone in a way you’ve not experienced.
If you’re familiar with the pinch to zoom in and the opposite gesture (moving your fingers apart) to zoom out, you know what it does on a phone and a tablet. Well, here in the Sennheiser Momentum 4, that same gesture changes the noise cancellation level, opening up the headphones to let you hear the world or closing it up a little bit.
Make those gestures while the Sennheiser Smart Control app is open and you’ll see the outcome, as ANC is made to work lighter or more aggressively, a feature you can control with those gestures on the headphones or via the app.
And after using it for a month, we can tell you we keep forgetting the gestures. It’s just not that logical to recall, compared to the button Sony or Apple uses or even the taps Bose uses.
We get it: Sennheiser was trying to be creative in reusing something familiar, it just doesn’t feel like a good appropriation of that gesture. Rather, it ends up being a control you’ll forget about, and running straight for the intro sequence tutorial in the app to recall what you’re supposed to.
Or you could just stick to the app, which is what we did. Sennheiser’s Smart Control may not be the best app, but it has features, and is very easy to get your head across.
Once you’re familiar with the app, get stuck into the sound, because that’s the main reason for using a pair of headphones, particularly a pair made for travel with such a long battery life like this one.
As usual, we’re putting this pair of headphones through its paces with the Pickr Sound Test, which you can listen to yourself and test with your own headphones, and that starts with electronic.
And immediately, there’s a good punch from the bass in Tycho’s “Glider”, where the oomph is noticeable and the sound is balanced but earthy. Into pop and R&B, we found a nice balanced and punchy sound from both Mark Ronson and Ariana Grande, while Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” delivered a lovely vibrant all-round sound that was warm to the ears.
It’s pretty clear after listening to a few tracks both in and out of our playlist that Sennheiser’s approach in the Momentum 4 headphones isn’t for a generic balance, but rather something a little punchier and warm. The lows aren’t overly hard, but they can definitely punch when they need to, delivering that snap that simply balanced headphones don’t often get, and a sound more like a nice big speaker, albeit one placed over your ears.
Jumping into classic and modern rock, we found tracks from David Bowie, The Who, and The Beatles all shined, as did Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”, which bubbles and delights, the focus on that bass popping nicely in our ears. Modern rock from both the Deftones and Muse offered a warm yet crisp low-end that never overtook the rest, and just generally delivered.
It’s no wonder then that the almost-never-over-engineered jazz and classical we ran through (well, certainly not the tracks in our sound test!) were comfortable and clear, giving us a solid round sound that’s easy to admire.
There’s also the other side of the performance, covering the noise cancellation, and that’s where things don’t stack up quite as well. You see, while Sennheiser has thrown in adaptive noise cancellation, it appears to be a combination of guesswork meets GPS control.
Much like what Sony showed us in the WH-1000XM4, there’s a GPS feature that lets you control the noise and balance sound based on where you are. The feature will kick in with different types of settings based on the locations you set, reliant on the app on your phone.
Outside of this, you can leave the adaptive noise cancellation on and it’ll switch transparency modes letting in sound as you walk largely from what seems to be movement and what it hears. The problem is this mode is mostly for shifting the transparency mode and letting more or less sound in, as opposed to improving the noise cancellation.
While the AirPods Pro second-gen uses AI to change the noise cancellation based on what you hear, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 seems to be less about beefing up the noise cancellation and more about how much you can hear.
Even when the active noise cancellation is up, the world can feel like it’s bleeding in just that little bit, something we experienced both while walking around and sitting on a train, two situations that can change dramatically, but that current top-end active noise cancelling sound products can handle with no worries.
That’s not to say that Sennheiser’s noise cancelling mode is bad, because it’s not, but with fierce competition in active noise cancellation from Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones, Bose’s Quiet Comfort Earbuds II, and the aforementioned recent update to Apple’s AirPods Pro, Sennheiser has a lot more competition, and these unfortunately do not quite stack up to any of them.
One area that just smashes it out of the park is the battery, which goes on and on and on and on. And then some.
Offering a massive 60 hour maximum, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 delivers the battery life no other pair of noise cancelling headphones can do. It’s just so staggering.
While Bose maxes out in the 20s and Sony maxes in the 30s — and Soundcore’s Space Q45 can hit a staggering 50 hours — the Sennheiser Momentum 4 pushes even harder, fetching a maximum of 60.
The battery life is so strong, we stopped thinking about the maximum runtime as we reviewed. We just listened for several hours a day and then switched them off, needing to charge at the end of a week.
For folks who travel all the time, be it on a train to work and back daily or on an airplane to lots of exciting destinations, the battery on the Momentum 4 headphones will keep on going.
Even the value isn’t bad, because while they’re a pricey pair of headphones at $549.95, that’s also about the norm these days.
While the recommended retail price of high-end noise cancelling headphones typically runs between $500 and $800, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 are priced reasonably fairly, hitting $550 on the RRP, with an Australian street price closer to $499.
That’s downright affordable for a brand new pair of noise cancelling headphones, especially given Sony raised the price of its last generation compared to the one before it.
What needs work?
Sennheiser has nailed so much in these headphones, it’s going to be hard to pick a winner this year, though there are some areas that could be slightly tightened, or even able to offer some future improvements, with things we don’t think Sennheiser has considered.
Take the design, which we like, though it can be a touch simple. It’s a rather plain design that doesn’t stand out, and won’t get you attention out in the street, but that also doesn’t make you feel like you’ve spent the $500 these things cost.
There’s nothing wrong with plain, either. The problem is the Sennheiser Momentum 4 look so damned ordinary, it’s hard to understand why no one at Sennheiser didn’t just say “let’s add something to make them stand out”. These are basic looking headphones, and that seems like a bit of a shame.
We reviewed the black Momentum 4, which are black and look basic, but the white model isn’t dramatically different. Granted, the white Momentum 4 headphones offer a two-tone approach in the pads and casing, so they’re a little prettier, but we don’t think these headphones will win an award in design. They definitely don’t deserve to.
The noise cancellation could also be a little bit better, and there’s also no head-tracked spatial audio yet. That last one isn’t necessarily a huge deal, but we know Bose is thinking about it, while Sony talks up 360 Reality Audio, which isn’t quite head-tracked spatial, but is still a form of spatial.
The point is probably that right now, as good as the Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones are, they can come across as a little ordinary, and that’s just a bit of a shame.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Fortunately, the Momentum 4 are better than ordinary, even if they don’t look like it.
They sound great, offer excellent battery life, and are quite comfortable. These are a formidable pair, even if they look rather ordinary. Don’t just this book by its cover.
They’re not quite as good as some of the competition, but that could improve with updates over time, and if you’re up for a pair that won’t stand out aesthetically but delivers on the most important thing — the sound — the Momentum 4 are worth checking out. Sound goes skin deep here. Recommended.